As Lawrence grows, city, county and school officials need to work more closely together and should map out a long-range plan for major projects, a Lawrence city commissioner says.
"There must be more than what we do now, which is almost nothing, in terms of coordinating some of our activities," said Commissioner John Nalbandian, who has proposed creating a board to bring the three groups closer together.
Lawrence city commissioners will hash over Nalbandian's proposal during their weekly meeting, which will get under way at 6:35 p.m. today in the city commission meeting room at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.
Nalbandian also wants to discuss forming a group that would build more homes for low-income residents and help the city with other housing goals.
Nalbandian suggests creating a committee of city, county and school board officials to develop joint policies to deal with the consequences of city growth.
Cooperation is needed because of the impact city policies have on the school district, and vice versa, Nalbandian said.
FOR INSTANCE, in recent years the city has helped replace playground equipment at some schools paying for it with the city's share of Community Development Block Grant money, rather than the school district paying for it.
In addition, the city has many policies that promote economic growth, bringing more families to the city and more children into the school system.
"Not that any of this is right or wrong, but there ought to be more discussion on how to pay for this," he said.
The committee would consist of the mayor and city manager, school board president and superintendent, and the Douglas County commission chair and county administrator.
The committee also could create a 10-year master plan for new buildings and facilities to give residents a sense of what they will get for their tax dollars.
"I THINK, by and large, people are satisfied with the city's growth. The consequence is we need these major building projects," Nalbandian said.
If taxpayers saw the big picture, they could be more sympathetic to tax increases for individual projects, he said.
Commissioners and school board members recently discussed a $29.9 million bond issue proposed by the board that would allow for construction of two new elementary schools and a fourth junior high school, as well as expansion and renovations to other schools.
"We could say, `Look, if we do all these things in the next 10 years, this is how much taxes you'll be paying.' Maybe that's OK, but we have to let taxpayers know what they are getting," he said.
NALBANDIAN also wants to talk about forming a group that will help the city meet its housing goals, such as building more dwellings for financially strapped residents.
"There are so many different programs and funding sources, it would be helpful to have a coordinating council that would coordinate grant writing and implementation," Nalbandian said.
Lynn Goodell, city community development director, has suggested establishing a non-profit group, called a Community Housing Development Organization, which would give the city more flexibility to meet its housing goals.
"They could use their funds for new housing, or they could buy places and rehabilitate them," Goodell said.
Although the city cannot use federal Community Development Block Grant funds to build new dwellings, it could donate the funds to the housing organization for that purpose, Goodell said.
Through the group's non-profit status, it also would be eligible for federal funds allotted to states under the federal Home Investment Partnership Program, as well as private contributions, Goodell said.
The group could consist of representatives of the many community groups that now have a hand in housing issues, such as the Lawrence Housing Authority, local lenders and neighborhood groups.
Nalbandian said he was interested in the housing proposal. "If that's what it takes, then that's what we should do," he said.